U.S. Looked Into Kidnapping of Woman Related to Lawmaker

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 28, 2008

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents helped investigate the kidnapping last week of a Mexican citizen who is related to the chairman of the powerful House intelligence committee, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), officials confirmed yesterday.

Erika Posselt, a Mexican citizen whom Reyes's aides described as a "distant relative" of his wife, was released Sunday, three days after her abduction, after her family paid $32,000 ransom in Ciudad Juarez, a city across the border from El Paso, which Reyes represents.

A public interest group criticized the agency's intervention and requested an investigation.

"The United States does not . . . routinely step in and offer its assistance in recovering foreign kidnapping victims not related to powerful members of Congress," Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, wrote Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff yesterday.

An ICE spokeswoman said that, to her knowledge, the agency had not previously investigated a kidnapping in Mexico.

A leaked ICE memo stated that Reyes's office contacted ICE's assistant attache in Ciudad Juarez on June 19. That federal official then arranged meetings with Chihuahua State Police, contacted that state's attorney general, briefed FBI and ICE officials in Mexico City, and coordinated technical support.

ICE agents in Ciudad Juarez also set up a command post with Mexican state and federal authorities and helped interview people in the United States who were thought to have relevant information.

Reyes spokesman Vincent Perez said his office notifies law enforcement whenever it learns of potential criminal matters, and that the report came from Posselt relatives who live in his district. Reyes was notified by aides only after ICE was contacted, Perez said.

"Any suggestion that Congressman Reyes somehow influenced the actions of law enforcement is false," he said, adding that Posselt apparently was not targeted because of her connection to Reyes.

Cross-border cooperation is standard practice on many drug and human smuggling cases, ICE spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said.

"In any case where ICE is provided credible and specific information related to ongoing serious criminal conduct, we would seek to contact the appropriate law enforcement agency and offer assistance upon request," Nantel said.

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